DALLAS – The Trail Blazers’ locker room was a quiet place Friday night. No solace was taken in running down Dallas’ 30-point lead. Only lament that they could somehow trail by 30 and then allow an avalanche of late-game miscues to bury their own lead.
Maybe the 103-98 defeat wouldn’t have stung so deeply if it were not a virtual repeat of Monday night when the wayward Lakers popped Portland in its own building, racing to an early 15-point lead and then winning it in the final seconds.
These are losses teams don’t get back, not at this stage of the season. They’re losses that ultimately swipe homecourt advantage for what promises to be a rugged first-round series regardless of opponent.
Neither loss, however, triggered a team meeting a la Indiana following the Pacers’ third consecutive loss Friday, a thumping at red-hot Houston. That’s where these Blazers head next for a Sunday showdown. Then their five-game, nine-day, potentially season-defining road trip winds through Memphis and San Antonio before finally ending Friday at still-feisty New Orleans.
Entering Saturday’s game, Portland is in fifth place in the West, one game behind third-place Houston and now one-half game behind the Los Angeles Clippers. The current road trip could make or break the Blazers’ chances of homecourt advantage, but they say playoff seeding is not a conversation they’re having.
“Nah, we just try to take care of business,” said LaMarcus Aldridge, who broke out of a post-injury shooting funk with an 18-point third quarter Friday for a game-high 30 points plus 17 rebounds. “We feel like if we go through every game and take care of business then we should be where we want to be. We definitely notice that we are right there with them. We do want homecourt, but we don’t want to get caught up into watching all those things. If we take care of business it should all work out.”
That would suggest falling behind by 30 is not exactly taking care of business. Nor is losing on their home floor to a last-place team. It’s not time to panic. The best teams struggle at times, just as the Pacers and even the Heat are doing now. It doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be concern over recent patterns.
“We weren’t playing very well at either end of the court,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said of the start of Friday’s game when Dallas surged to a 40-10 lead. “We weren’t communicating well defensively, we had miscues reading each other, there were a lot of things that weren’t going right. Dallas made no secret, this was a must-win for them, they were approaching it like that and Houston, you go down the line, we’re going to be in a lot of situations like this, and we know what we’re capable of doing, but it’s going to be a dogfight every night.”
Portland plays good enough defense to get by with a high-octane offense. But when the shots aren’t falling as they weren’t early in Dallas, it can spell big trouble. Incorporate sloppy turnovers, six in the first quarter and three during their final, scoreless 4:26 of the game, and eventually that path will lead to a closed-door team meeting.
At 42-20 and 18-12 on the road, the Blazers, a surprising success story throughout the season, have proven themselves as resilient time and again. With 20 games to go, this would be a poor time to allow a couple of clumsy losses to teams beneath them in the standings to linger.
“You always worry about that,” Aldridge said. “But I think guys are just angry about it and I think just want to take it out on Houston.”